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Going to the Dogs

Community-minded retailers like Big Y, Dierbergs and Safeway are teaming up with suppliers to raise donations for pet charities -- and drive traffic to center store.


Big Y conducted a food and fund-raising drive for local animal shelters in each of its 70 supermarkets in May.

Big Y Foods

There was some heavy petting going on in the aisles of Big Y Foods this past spring. That’s because the retailer’s “May is Pet Month” charitable initiative resulted in the collection of nearly 50,000 pounds of pet food and supplies that were donated to 45 different local animal shelters and pet charities near chain’s 70 supermarkets in Massachusetts and Connecticut.  

According to officials with the Springfield, Mass.-based retailer, each Big Y location chose a local pet shelter and employees got involved by decorating their store’s donation bins with pictures of their family pets. 

“This year was our biggest May is Pet Month event yet,” says Scott Brackney, grocery category sales manager at Big Y, adding that this is the third year the chain conducted the May is Pet Month fundraiser.  “Our big addition this year was that we teamed with iHeartRadio and were taking cash donations at the register.”
iHeartRadio helped get out the word about the cash donations, where customers could donate $1 or more at the register upon checkout. Proceeds from that aspect of the program were donated to four animal welfare groups; two in Massachusetts and two in Connecticut.

Big Y supports various charities throughout the year and settled on May because it was a relatively quiet period for fundraising, Brackney notes. “Many of the manufacturers see May as ‘Pet Month,’” he adds.

A key focus of this year’s campaign was working with supplier Topco Associates to promote Big Y’s Pure Harmony private label pet food, a supreme grain-free alternative featuring meat, poultry or fish as its first ingredient. “Pure Harmony is a super ultra-premium dog and cat food available exclusively to Topco members that is at the quality level of Purina Beyond,” Brackney says. “Many of the ultra-premium brands will not sell to grocery stores.  We wanted to bring in a brand that can, so we had to lean on our private label.”

Last year, Dierbergs Markets raised $34,000 for Stray Rescue of St. Louis, by partnering with Milk-Bone and fellow St. Louis-based icon Anheuser-Busch for a “Be a Bud” promotion that ran through August 2016. During the promotion, Anheuser-Busch donated $1 to Stray rescue for every 30-pack of Budweiser beer sold in Dierbergs, while Milk-Bone donated 25-cents from every Milk-Bone product sold, and customers contributed to Stray Rescue with donations at check-out. 

So as not to overwhelm customers, at Safeway’s Eastern Division, the major in-store fundraisers are limited to human-oriented efforts – May, cancer treatment; July, disabilities; August, school spirit; September, anti-hunger; November, veterans, and November/December, Holiday Bucks – so the chain’s support of animal charities is more behind the scenes. In the past, Safeway has supported the Baltimore animal shelter BARCS by sponsoring its Troopers & Tails Golf Tournament and its annual Barktoberfest with gift card donations.

“At Safeway, we know that pets are beloved family members,” says Danielle Mulgara, pet category manager at Safeway’s Lanham, Md.-based Eastern Division. “That’s why we provide one-stop shopping for all of our customers’ pet supply needs. We also know there are many animals in need of a place to call home, and we are proud to support local humane societies that advocate on behalf of these animals.” 

Customized Programs 

Retailers can build cause-awareness for pet charities by teaming up with manufacturers.

“Purina can work with retailers to create customized programs that drive in-store/online sales and benefit various pet welfare organizations,” says Paul Cooke, VP, trade and industry relations at Nestlé Purina, based in St. Louis. “Related specifically to the Purina Supports Our Heroes partnership, we have customers across the country who participate. They look forward to the program year after year, as Purina provides merchandising solutions, in-store POS and customer specific promotions in support. In many instances, these promotions may fill up half of a page of the retailer’s weekly circular, with display support in-store.”

In 2016 alone, Nestlé Purina contributed more than $31.2 million in pet supplies, food, litter and funding to pet shelters and community groups across the country, Cooke says, including Mutt-i-grees, a curriculum developed by North Shore Animal League America (NSALA) where it is using its Purina ONE brand to celebrate the difference shelter-led education programs can make in both the lives of students and shelter dogs. For each person who signs up for the brand’s trial program – the Purina ONE 28 Day Challenge – Purina ONE will donate $10 to NSALA in support of Mutt-i-grees, up to $20,000.

Nestlé Purina works closely with retailers on various pet charitable efforts, including pet adoption events in the store parking lot to photo contests benefiting local charities.

“There are many instances where we partner with our retailers to create customized programs with pet charities, pet adoption agencies, pet food banks, etc., all of which are met with great enthusiasm from consumers,” affirms Cooke. “Research shows that consumers expect the companies behind their brands to act responsibly. Consumers, in general, are looking to be more socially responsible in their own lives, and they want to make purchases from brands that share their values.”

Another popular fund-raising effort at the company is the Purina Supports Our Heroes campaign.

“The program, which supports the Dogs on Deployment, Warrior Canine Connection and Pets for Vets organizations, takes place during the fourth quarter,” Cooke notes. “The donation is tied to coupon redemption for brands like Dog Chow, Friskies, Tidy Cats and Beneful, and the promotion is a fully integrated effort between Purina and our customers, supported by everything from in-store merchandising and POS, to FSIs and online displays.” 

According to many suppliers, retailers should feel free to reach out to their pet product manufacturer partners for charitable donations.

Coastal Pet Products supports hundreds of pet-related charitable events every year through product donations,” says Diane Thomas, digital content specialist at Coastal Pet Products, an Alliance, Ohio-based manufacturer of leashes, collars, brushes, clippers, safety vests and other items. “Our retail customers often contact us for product donations when they are having events to raise funds for the pet-related charitable organizations in their communities. Pet-related charities are great causes to get behind as they are near-and-dear to the hearts of pet owners.”

Use Social Media  

According to Thomas, to help the fund-raiser be most effective – and draw traffic to the store – it is important to heavily promote the event.

“You need to get the word out in a variety of ways, particularly through social media,” advises Thomas. “Offering a discount or coupon in exchange for making a donation is a great way to partner with your customers to increase overall support of your chosen charity.”

On a personal level, Coastal Pet Products works closely with the Morris Animal Foundation and Leader Dogs for the Blind charities.

“We donate proceeds from one of our dog fashion patterns to support Morris Animal Foundation’s good works, and have supported their Virtual Walk program, Canine Cancer Study and Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, to name a few,” Thomas says. “We make components for the harnesses used by Leader Dogs for the Blind and have supported them in a variety of ways over the years, including their annual Bark ‘n Brew event.”

Manufacturers look forward to supporting their retailer partners with donations to raise awareness of pet charities, says Jessica Aveyard-Sayers, the sales and marketing manager for Buckley Pet Products, a Boulder, Colo.-based manufacturer of healthy American-made dog treats and dry dog food. “We do a lot of sample donations or large donations of products for specific events,” she says. “We like to partner with retailers for events, and that is a great way to expand our charitable efforts.”

That may include donating bags of treats to be given away at adoption events, she says. “If they have an event that they think is worthwhile in their area, then we are definitely open to hearing about it. It is a way to support retailers,” Aveyard-Sayers says.

Officials at Loving Pets Products, a manufacturer of treats, feeding dishes and bowls, love donating their products to local charities. The Cranberry, N.J.-based company works closely with cosmetics giant L’Oreal, which runs an annual “Because Your Dog Is Worth It Too” event at its Cranberry plant to raise funds for local shelters and animal-cause groups.

“Most of our donating is done to the shelters directly,” says Eric Abbey, founder and president of Loving Pets Products. “We feel like we should give back to the animals that have been good to us.”

Often the donated product consists of treats nearing their code date that would be wasted if not consumed. “We donate a lot of feeding dishes to shelters, too, because they need them and we are the largest manufacturer of feeding bowls in the U.S.,” Abbey explains, adding that he would be delighted to work with the supermarket channel on charitable efforts. After all, many of his treats are sold there. The problem is, no supermarkets have contacted him about using Loving Pets treats in conjunction with charitable efforts. “We have not had an opportunity like that come our way,” he says. “We sell in grocery and no one has discussed any opportunities like that, but I think it is a great idea.” 

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